From Katya: Animal Crossing: New Horizons dropped on March 20th, much to the relief of a lot of folks gaming through the COVID-19 pandemic. In the tradition of the OG Animal Crossing on GameCube or Animal Crossing: Wild World, players build up a small community of cute animal neighbors, cultivate and collect natural resources, and– a new addition in New Horizons — DIY their way to new furniture and tools. The game also syncs with your Nintendo Switch clock, keeping the in-game season in touch with the weather outside according to your hemisphere. Events and available items change based on this calendar. This morning I made a noodle slide from bamboo, only available in the Spring! So get on that people!
(Side note: we’ve also talked about Animal Crossing and other farm games as playable economic critiques on a previous episode, definitely check it out!)
Game play is pretty repetitive. Most resources respawn each day leading to a daily routine of collecting fruits, fossils, and randomly generated money trees (oh, to live in Animal Crossing…) Combined with the cute graphics and cuddly animal neighbors, the calming nature of game play has made this game ideal for distressing for many practicing social distancing or under quarantine: “According to some mental health professionals, diving into the game is a great idea because of its loose narrative and slow-paced activities that can be compared to mindfulness. ” There’s no competition in the game, goals are minimal and mostly self-guided, and you can even play with others through local or online play. Animal Crossing isn’t the only game notable for this. Apparently many players are also rediscovering The Sims for similar reasons: the lack of stressful competition, the ability to hold onto routines in a virtual setting, and a healthy does of escapism.
This episode we’ll be discussing these kinds of games under the rubric of “cozy games” from the 2018 meeting of Project Horseshoe, a game designer think tank. In general, they identify “cozy games” as those using aesthetics and mechanics that contribute to a sense of safety, abundance, and ‘softness’ in play. Designers noted that these games can contribute to fulfilling player needs, much like those noted by mental health and other professionals endorsing Animal Crossing as a healthy stress management tool.
We’ll be discussing the Project Horseshoe definition of “cozy games,” which I encourage readers to check out and ask questions or raise criticisms for discussion! I’m also interested in the ways that we talk about “cozy games” and sometimes devalue them, similar to cute media as we’ve addressed in previous episodes. “Coziness” I think can run into similarly problematic gender stereotypes that I’ve definitely seen play out in my students. Games like The Sims and Animal Crossing emphasize mechanics of care over competition (although there are certainly many players that defy those mechanics, GreyStillPlays’s YouTube series of torturing sims in new and creative ways exemplifies this. I recommended it if you need some binge watching material!)
What are your favorite “cozy games” or do you play them at all? If you don’t, what turns you away from the genre? And, most importantly, what fruits are native to your island and can I have some? (I still only have cherries, oranges, and peaches…)